Eight months after the Ohio State Buckeyes claimed the national title in the first College Football Playoff I can already hear Enter Sandman playing in my head in anticipation of Monday night’s battle between Virginia Tech and Ohio State in Blacksburg. Fans all over the country are getting their tailgates ready for the first weekend and I, for one, cannot be happier. After reading endless blogs and doing way too many hours of research, Almost Varsity has come up with the perfect college football preview. Read up on our conference previews and predictions and be the office NCAA football pro.
Champion – Memphis Tigers (over Cincinnati Bearcats in AAC championship)
The Memphis Tigers finished last season on a seven game winning streak. Sure, the Tigers won games against the likes of Tulane, Temple, SMU, and UConn, but a win streak is a win streak. They were able to finish the season off strong with a 2OT victory against BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl. Coach Justin Fuente is in his third year as a head coach of the Tigers after coming over from TCU. He was able to coach up Andy Dalton at TCU and is currently grooming a stud AAC QB in Junior, Paxton Lynch.
Paxton Lynch and this Memphis Tigers offense are going to be very good this year. The Tigers, starting RB, Doroland Dorceus, went down early in the year last year and the WR crew was very young. Give the Tigers their starting RB, another year for Lynch and his WRs to mature and they can make some noise. This team played games against UCLA and Ole Miss last year, both on the road, and were able to keep things interesting.
This conference race comes down to the two teams that could give big conference teams a run, Cincinnati and Memphis. I think Cincinnati will go on the road to beat Memphis when they play during the regular season. However, I believe Memphis will win the rematch in the AAC title game. The Memphis defense will have some time to gel and Paxton Lynch will dethrone Gunner Kiel as THE QB of the AAC.
Bold Memphis Prediction of 2015-16: The Tigers will be a two touchdown underdog to Ole Miss in October. They will keep this game very close into the fourth and have a chance to win the game late.
Sleeper team: Temple Owls
– The Temple Owls had a very good defense last year. While these Owls were a .500 team, they could sneak up on a few opponents this year. With a few big games on the slate this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made some noise in the AAC or out of conference.
Sleeper player: Marlon Mack, RB USF
– Marlon Mack rushed for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman last year. USF is working on installing a more uptempo offense which is going to rely on a very steady running game. Expect an even bigger year for Mack this year in the AAC.
Biggest AAC Game of Year: Memphis Tigers @ Houston Cougars, Nov 14
– It looks like the Cincinnati Bearcats will be the runaway winner in the East division. In the West, it looks like the two top contenders will be Memphis and Houston. The winner of the game will hop in the driver’s seat in the West.
Champion – Clemson Tigers (over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship)
Coach Dabo Swinney is finally reaping the benefits of multiple top 10 recruiting classes. The Clemson defense that was ranked number one in the nation last year is losing key pieces in the front seven. Last year could’ve been a special year for the Tigers, but Coach Swinney and his staff decided to keep the training wheels on Deshaun Watson and the offense couldn’t match the firepower of the defense.
This year, the offense is loaded with weapons. In my opinion, this receiving core is the best in the nation and the stable of running backs will surprise people this year. However, it all starts and ends with one of the best young players in the nation. DeShaun Watson has the makings of a collegiate superstar and this could be the year he fully steps into the spotlight. The preseason hype is huge, but the sky is the limit for this kid.
Clemson ended the season last year with a dominating win over the Oklahoma Sooners and this team looks to build on that. The Tigers have a pretty tough schedule this year, but Clemson’s biggest games of the year all happen to be in the friendly confines of Death Valley. Notre Dame, Florida State, and Georgia Tech all make their way to Clemson this year.
This conference has been decided between Clemson and Florida State the last few years and I don’t see this year shaping up to be any different. Florida State has to travel to Clemson this year so I think Clemson gets the edge to win the conference this year. Not only do the Tigers get this home game, but Florida State has too much talent that they will need to replace this year.
Bold Clemson Prediction of 2015-16: The Tigers will be playing in the College Football playoff and Deshaun Watson will be in New York for the Heisman trophy ceremony.
Sleeper team: North Carolina Tar Heels
– The Yellow Jackets and Hokies are getting all the hype in the Coastal division this year. The sleeper team in the Coastal has to be the UNC Tarheels. With offensive weapon, and dark horse ACC player of the year candidate, Marquise Williams leading the offense, this offensive unit could put up some points. A great pair of WRs in Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer will push to be thousand yard guys. Elijah Hood is a sophomore RB who decommitted from the Fighting Irish before moving into the ACC and could be an absolute star this year.
Sleeper player: Devonte Fields, DE Louisville
– Devonte Fields was named the 2012 Big 12 defensive player of the year. He recorded 18.5 tackles for loss and had 10 sacks. In 2013, Fields became wrapped up in a domestic violence incident after an injury plagued season. After being dismissed from TCU, he played his year in JUCO and is back on the collegiate football scene. If Fields can avoid the off the field issues, he could be one the best defensive players in the ACC this year.
Biggest ACC Game of Year: Florida State @ Clemson Tigers, Nov 7
– This game has decided the ACC Atlantic champion the last 5 years and 4 of the last five ACC champions. This game should decide who will take on Virginia Tech in the ACC championship.
Big Ten – Ohio State (over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship)
Urban Meyer has the returning national champions looking to repeat in 2015. The only question for Urban this off-season is who will be under center for the first game at Virginia Tech. Everything else is set up for the Buckeyes to make another national title run.
The offense returns eight starters and the defense returns seven. Last year, this team was supposed to be too young and too inexperienced to make the national title run. The Buckeyes defied all the naysayers and reached the College Football Playoff. This year, everyone will and should be chasing this team. Ezekiel Elliot returns as one of the best RBs in the nation. Any of the three QB starters from last year can take snaps and lead this team to victory.
The Big Ten is not an extremely tough conference top to bottom and their schedule shows. Virginia Tech upset these Buckeyes last year, but I doubt it will happen again. These two programs are going in opposite directions and the Buckeyes will have revenge in their minds when they open the season on September 7th. The Buckeyes won’t face another test until the end of November at home against Michigan State. I am very, very high on Michigan State this year and I think this game will decide the conference and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
I believe JT Barrett will be picked as the starter this year, but I think he and Cardale will both have their time under center. However, whichever QB gets the nod will be in the thick of the Heisman trophy race this year. A weak out of conference schedule and a weak conference (outside of the top two) schedule will allow Ohio State to coast to their first real test in November and allow their stars to pad the stats. This Ohio State team is very good and they should make another strong push at a second straight national title.
Bold Ohio State Prediction of 2015-16: Ohio State will make the college football playoff, but will not win the title.
Sleeper team: Penn State Nittany Lions
– I’m not very confident there is a REAL sleeper in this conference. As a whole I think the conference is down, but if any team was going to surprise the public it would be the Nittany Lions. Christian Hackenberg is already skyrocketing up NFL draft boards and this QB could make some noise. If Hackenberg finds a way to build on the stellar Freshman season he had, this team could knock off a giant or two. However, if Hackenberg struggles as he did last season, this could be another year this team floats around .500.
Sleeper player: Tommy Armstrong Jr, QB Nebraska
– Armstrong is the engine that will drive this Huskers team. New head coach Mike Riley comes in and Armstrong will be his golden goose. If Tommy Armstrong can have the season he is capable of, Nebraska could be fighting for the honor to lose to OSU or MSU in the Big Ten title game.
Biggest Big Ten Game of Year: Michigan State @ Ohio State, Nov 21
– I believe this game to be one of the biggest games of the year, not just the Big Ten’s year. If Michigan State can beat Oregon at home at the beginning of the season, this game could be two undefeated teams battling for a shot at not only the conference championship, but a National Title.
Champion – TCU
Gary Patterson consistently puts out a top defense. Even with two top linebackers (one an All-American) departing there is no need to worry about a TCU defense. In the Big 12, you don’t need a good defense to succeed because each defense is suspect. This Horned Frog defense will be good enough to keep opposing offenses at bay while their offense scores a ton of points.
Trevon Boykin leads an explosive offense with ten returning starters. Trevone Boykin didn’t come into TCU as a QB. He made the switch and this explosive athlete became an explosive QB. Aaron Green returns in the backfield and will only add to the havoc this offense can cause. The biggest problem with TCU has been recruiting. This hasn’t been a team that has recruited with national title contenders. If Patterson can continue to groom his talent and coach up his young players, then this team will be dangerous.
Baylor lost Bryce Petty to the NFL and their defense was never worthy of carrying the team. Baylor is my pick to take a big fall back this year. Oklahoma will be better than last year, but still not great. Bob Stoops continues to follow up bad seasons with great ones. The porous defense will need to be fixed to make noise in the Big 12. If Semaje Perine can get some room to run the ball in this newly installed, air raid offense, this team will be pretty exciting on that side of the ball. Oklahoma State will be much better and could be a team to make a move if anyone was to disrupt TCU and Baylor at the top. Mason Rudolph is a great young QB and could burst on the scene this year and become a national name.
Bold TCU Prediction of 2015-16: The Horned Frogs will win the conference, but not make the College Football Playoff.
Sleeper team: Oklahoma State Cowboys
– Many people are taking Oklahoma as the sleeper in the Big 12 but I just don’t see it. I am extremely high on Mason Rudolph this year and I think he can get this team to make a bunch of noise. I am not saying Oklahoma State will win this conference because I think they are still too far off from TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma. However, Mason Rudolph is the next Brandon Weeden in Cowboy Orange and Black. This team gets Oklahoma, TCU, and Oklahoma at home in the last four weeks of the year. I predict that Oklahoma State will go 2-1 in these games and end someone’s national title hopes.
Sleeper player: Mason Rudolph, QB Oklahoma State
– I don’t think I am higher on a single sleeper player in the nation than Mason Rudolph. He was in the middle of a redshirt season last year and voided the redshirt to save Oklahoma State from a losing season. He is an accurate passer with the ability to be pretty evasive. I think he leads the turnaround of this program and they win 9 games this year.
Biggest Big 12 Game of Year: Baylor @ TCU, Nov 27
– Well this was easy. Two teams that got left out of the college football playoff last year battle in the last game of the year. Since the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game, this will be the last chance that either team has to make an impact on the playoff committee. If my bold prediction of Oklahoma State knocking one of these teams off doesn’t come true then this could be two undefeated teams with the winner booking their ticket to the semifinals.
Champion – Arizona (over Oregon in Pac 12 Championship)
This may be my most outlandish pick. When it comes true, it will be that much sweeter. This team will be an absolute blast to watch on offense. Rich Rodriguez laid an absolute egg at Michigan and after he was let go, he made the move to Arizona. He has struck gold with three collegiate stars on offense. Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson return for their sophomore season after standout freshman campaigns. Cayleb Jones is a great receiver who will make an attempt to move into the national spotlight. If this trio didn’t play on the west coast, they would be household names already.
Solomon returns after a 3,800 yard freshman campaign. Under the bright offensive mind of Rich Rod, he will continue to grow in his second year under center. Nick Wilson had a 16 touchdown, 1,375 yard freshman season in the backfield and will most likely continue to build on that. A former Texas receiver, Cayleb Jones, rounds out this offensive trio that is one of the best in the nation. On defense, Arizona has one of the best defensive players in the nation in Scooby Wright. Scooby Wright could legitimately be contending for a Heisman trophy with the stats he will put up at LB. Last year, Scooby Wright had 29 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. If he can get any help around him, this team can be very dangerous.
The Pac 12 could be the best conference top to bottom in the nation. In the Pac 12 North division, Oregon and Stanford will be back, California and Washington are on the rise and Oregon State can do some damage if you sleep on them. In the Pac 12 South, USC, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA, and Utah are very, very good teams that could hang with most teams in the nation. The Pac 12 will be awesome, but each team has questions. Oregon and UCLA are breaking in new quarterbacks; Arizona State has questions at WR and a QB with little experience returning; Stanford can’t score with the rest of the Pac 12; and USC has questions at RB and in the secondary.
Bold Arizona Prediction of 2015-16: The Wildcats will win ten games and win the division and conference.
Sleeper team: California Bears
– Cal is my preseason sleeper team for one reason and one reason only: Jared Goff. Cal averaged almost 500 yards and scored over 38 points per game last year. This offense returns eight starters from last year and will continue to put up points this year. Goff will be a sleeper Heisman candidate and could lead Cal to a few surprising wins this fall.
Sleeper player: Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
– Josh Rosen is a highly touted freshman leading a very talented UCLA roster that returns 17 starters. He may be a freshman, but early indications are saying that this kid is the real deal.
Biggest Pac 12 Game of Year: Arizona @ Arizona State, Nov 21
– I have these two teams finishing first and second in the Pac 12 South. I believe that the winner of this game wins the division and battles Oregon or Stanford in the Pac 12 final.
Champion – Auburn (over Georgia in SEC Championship)
The SEC is the hardest division to predict this year. A deep conference with a lot of talent and no clear cut favorite will lead to all of these teams beating up on one another. Will Muschamp was a big hire for Auburn. If he can turn around a defense that gave up almost 27 points and 400 yards a game this team will be very good.
In a small sample size, QB Jeremy Johnson proved he has an extremely high ceiling. If he can have the same success this upcoming season, he will be special. He has a strong arm and is an accurate passer. Spreading the ball around to playmaking WR Duke Williams will open up the running game for Jovon Robinson. Again, scoring will not be the problem for this high octane offense. The problem will be whether or not Muschamp can turn this defense around even a little. I have the Auburn Tigers winning this conference simply because they get to host Alabama this year.
The SEC East is the weaker division again, but that should come as no surprise. Georgia can never live up the preseason hype. Will this be another year Bulldog fans are scratching their heads? Tennessee has a ton of young talent, but is it a year too soon? Can Florida fix the mess that was the Gators last year? Will South Carolina be able to stop anyone? Have they found an answer at QB with Connor Mitch? Kentucky is beginning to turn the program around, but the light isn’t quite within reach yet. Vandy is Vandy. Lastly, why is Missouri still getting no respect?!?!?!
The SEC West could be won by any team in the division. The defense will be great again, but can Alabama find an answer at QB? Can Auburn get some semblance of defense so they don’t have to outscore everyone? Can LSU find stable and productive QB play to take some pressure off Fournette? Will Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen live up to the sky high expectations set last year? Will Arkansas’ run game be enough to stay above .500? Have Ole Miss and Miss St really fallen that far off from last year’s top rankings?
Bold Auburn Prediction of 2015-16: Behind a QB reminiscent of Cam Newton, Auburn will make it to the national championship game.
Sleeper team: Tennessee Volunteers
– I love the talent that the Vols have been recruiting over the last few years. Josh Dobbs is a dual threat QB that gave the Vols offense some life at the end of last season. The stout defense returns 7 starters and the non-starters have a lot of experience. Alvin Kamara was a former Alabama signee that was a JUCO All-American last year. This duo in the backfield will be deadly. It’s one season too early for the Vols, but people said that about Ohio State last year and we know how that turned out.
Sleeper player: Maty Mauk, QB MIssouri
– I feel like Maty Mauk has been playing at Missouri forever and I absolutely LOVE his game. He is a collegiate gunslinger that reminds me of a wild Jay Cutler. Mauk is a player that can win the Tigers the SEC or lead the Tigers to a not-so-great season. After back to back SEC East titles for the Tigers, it’s about time Mauk got some respect around the country. This could be that year.
Biggest SEC Game of Year: Tennessee@ Alabama, Oct 24
– The easy choice would’ve been Bama/Auburn. That game doesn’t become as big if these young Vols can ride into Tuscaloosa and take out the mighty Crimson Tide. I believe Tennessee will be able to keep this game very close and Josh Dobbs will have a chance to win it late.
Other conference champions
- Conference USA – Western Kentucky
- MAC – Toledo
- Mountain West – Boise St
- Sun Belt – Georgia Southern
- Michigan State
- Notre Dame
- Ezekiel Elliot
- J.T. Barret / Cardale Jones
- Leonard Fournette
- Trevon Boykin
- Deshaun Watson
- Anu Solomon
- Connor Cook
- Jared Goff
- Justin Thomas
- Scooby Wright
The Almost Varsity Sports Final Four
- Ohio State
- Michigan State